Philadelphia Phillies: Matt Anderson's Road to Redemption Faces Potholes

Greg Pinto@@Greg_PintoCorrespondent IMarch 2, 2011

For Philadelphia Phillies' pitcher Matt Anderson, being in Clearwater, Florida is a blessing.

A former flamethrower on the hill, arm injuries derailed Anderson's career before it even began. The former first overall draft pick was limited to far fewer appearances with the Detroit Tigers and Colorado Rockies than many would have expected when he was still a top prospect—long before he was considered one of the biggest draft busts of all time.

After hearing positive news regarding his health, the Phillies took a flier on the right hander this winter as he attempts his comeback.

The road to redemption for Anderson began on Monday against the Toronto Blue Jays.

A few innings after Roy Halladay made a near-perfect spring debut against his former teammates, Anderson took to a professional mound for the first time since 2008.

As a non-roster invitee, it's now or never for the once highly-touted prospect.

So with few fans filling the Blue Jays' spring complex, Anderson took the hill to square off with a few well-regarded prospects—all while not a single Jays' fan with a clue of who this guy was.

Unlike a few other Phillies' relievers to take the mound this spring, Anderson did just what the team wanted to see—retired the side in order, including a strikeout.

In fact, he did so in a rather impressive fashion.

Early reports that stated that his arm didn't have much gas left in it were proven wrong as he hurled a few fastballs that touched 95mph on the radar gun past a couple of young Blue Jays.

At the very least, he impressed the right guy. After the game, Charlie Manuel had nothing but positive feedback for the right-hander.

"I think we've got to see more of him this spring," Manuel said.

"Yeah, he could pitch some more. Hell, he got three outs."

In the most general of terms, that's all that matters in baseball as a pitcher—getting outs.

Pitching more in the spring isn't going to satisfy Anderson, however. As a minor league invitee to spring camp, he'll have to compete just to make another appearance. He's setting the bar high though.

"It was totally awesome. You can't really put into words what I'm feeling right now, but it's something I've been thinking about for the past two years," Anderson said after his perfect inning on what it's been like sitting at home these past two seasons and wondering if he'll ever get a chance to pitch again.

"My expectation, my goal is to make this team out of Spring Training. That's the only thing that's on my mind. That's my goal. I plan on doing everything I can to do that."

In a jam-packed bullpen, Anderson is going to have to throw up a few more perfect innings to crack the major league club.

With Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, JC Romero and Jose Contreras as locks, he'll have to out-duel a couple of guys on the inside track to break camp and head to Philadelphia. As left-handed relievers, Antonio Bastardo and Mike Zagurski could get a few more looks than Anderson.

Kyle Kendrick seems to have a job waiting as the long reliever and that could mean that Anderson has to outperform a single man to make the team—Danys Baez.

Baez has a good chance of making the team based on his salary alone. The right-handed reliever is set to earn $2.75 million this season in what was easily one of general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.'s worst free-agent signings during his tenure in Philadelphia.

A reliever making a nice chunk of change like that just has to pitch well over the course of the spring to wind up in the bullpen, right? Not such a simple task for Baez.

A good friend of Contreras made his spring debut in a B-game on Saturday, getting roughed up by a different Blue Jays' squad.

After dealing with sporadic back pain last season that some believe caused a lot of his problems, he showed that he was still struggling just as badly, allowing five runs on five hits to a lineup composed of minor league players and not even making it out of the inning.

Though he began his own road to redemption on Tuesday by throwing a scoreless inning against the Blue Jays, some believe his time in the Phillies' bullpen may be dwindling.

Though cutting Baez before the season begins would cost the Phillies a nice chunk of change, paying him to release him is starting to seem like a necessary evil.

Of course, that doesn't mean that Anderson is going to be given a job should that happen. The Phillies are also showcasing a number of young relief prospects this spring, headlined by Justin De Fratus and Michael Schwimer, both of whom could be integral parts of the bullpen.

Much of Matt Anderson's future relies on the impending success or failure of Danys Baez.

If the Phillies do decide to cut Baez, turning to a fire-baller like Anderson could be an easy choice.

Giving relievers like De Fratus and Schwimer seasoning in the minor leagues is not a bad idea either, as the Phillies are going to need them when the likes of Madson and Lidge hit the open market following this season.

Turning to a guy like Anderson could be a good idea if he continues to impress by lighting up the radar gun.

For a guy who was coaching his kids' Little League team this time last season, it's not a bad position to be in.


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